Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, has commissioned a review into the new intrusive capabilities of British intelligence agencies and the legal framework in which they operate, after failing to persuade David Cameron that the coalition government should act now to tighten the accountability of Britain’s spies.
Clegg has been trying for months inside government to persuade the Conservatives and intelligence agencies that the existing accountability structure is inadequate and could corrode trust, but in a Guardian article before a big speech on Tuesday the deputy prime minister admits he has failed to persuade Cameron of the need for reform.
Clegg has as a result opted for an independent review, modelled on a report commissioned by Barack Obama, into the implications of the information harvesting technologies developed by US and UK intelligence agencies and exposed by leaks from the former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
The independent review, to be led by the intelligence and military think tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), will look at the proportionality of the data gathered for surveillance purposes and the legal framework in which this happens.
The review, to be chaired by RUSI’s director general, Michael Clarke, is in part modelled on the work commissioned in January by Obama from John Podesta, Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff, into big data and privacy. Clegg says the aim of the review, due to report after the general election, will be to bring the issue into the mainstream of public debate, noting the “quality of the debate in the US provides an unflattering contrast to the muted debate on this side of the Atlantic”.
The deputy prime minister says the RUSI review needs to answer serious questions on how long the data is stored, by whom, and whether ministers or agencies should authorise its gathering.